May 10, 2010

A Peek Into My Head: The Conversion Story

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison

(warning: this is about as controversial as I get)

People are beginning to ask me what I write. My general response has been, "Inspirational Romance". It's true that all my stories so far have a religious undertone, and that religion is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's what I know. Though the conversion story is a theme in THE ORCHARD and THE INN, the other novels (THE LAKE, REMNANT, GRACE & CHOCOLATE) have their other issues to explore.
I read in an interview a while back that it was an opinion of one author (and I'm sure there are more) that LDS fiction needed to steer away from the conversion story... enough already. And I could see how that could be believed, knowing the source and their demographic. It's been done: Good girl converts bad guy and they live happily ever after, etc... I agree. The diversity we are beginning to see in LDS fiction is exciting, and it's about time the expansion manifests itself.
But I want to discuss the idea of labeling the conversion story as obsolete, and I mean no offense, and my tone is not argumentative. After all, when I tackled THE ORCHARD, writing a conversion story was the last thing on my mind. The story just took me that way. I simply wish to share my ideas on the subject, because ever since I read that interview, it's been stirring around in the back of my mind.
Most of the Church resides outside Utah and Idaho, though the concentration of members in those two states is, shall we say, dense. We could possibly include Arizona and some of Nevada as states with large, condensed numbers of Mormons. I've never lived in what these areas are often referred to as "Zion", though I did attend BYU Provo for 1 1/2 years. The culture has its own stigmas, myths, idiosyncrasies, beauties, and wonders. Having your entire ward (congregation of 200-400 members) living within four square blocks flanked by a church building on either end is common in Utah, from SLC, to Provo, to Hooper (pronounce hupper, like book). Everyone knows who the members aren't, and most people living in these areas assume those they see in the grocery store, the library, the gym, are members, or are related to members, or were once members. The kids in high school are predominantly LDS, but still making the same choices kids in other high schools are, still facing the same challenges, to a point (I have an image of an LDS youth from Queens placed in a Bountiful high school and have to chuckle).
But the rest of us don't live in that climate. And we're fine with that. I think it's safe to say the time has passed for those of us who don't live near these places to long to "get to Zion." We're happy in our towns and cities with Stakes of three to twelve wards (as opposed to seventy-five wards in one stake), a youth group of fifteen to thirty, twenty-five kids in Primary classes on Sunday, and one nursery of seven toddlers, two classes of early morning, or if we're lucky, release-time seminary at the high school, and knowing we're the only LDS members in a four block square, flanked by Lutheran and Church of the Nazarene buildings. Our nearest LDS bookstore is an hour+ away, wherever the nearest temple is, and our only link (and usually the only time we think about it except when gift-giving needs present themselves) is the Deseret Books flyer we get in the mail because we once ordered a set of scriptures through them. Did I just hear you gasp? No need. We're fine.
We serve our communities, we teach in our homes and in our church buildings. We wear our beliefs on our sleeves (because we have them in the summer months) and our support networks are strong because they have to be. We look forward to general conference via satellite. We hold sometimes two callings. I once held three. We have the church down the hill preaching against us and we preach against no one. We have smokers, drinkers, drug-dealers, porn solicitors in the adult communities as well as in the youth. Profanity is everywhere. Pre-marital sex is an odd phrase because isn't it just sex and isn't everyone doing it? We are repeatedly called non-Christians by our friends, and prayers are uttered for our eternal salvation. And we love our communities.
And we are invited, and compelled, to share what we have with others, and some of us wonder... How? And with who? And Why them? I have the faith, I love the gospel of Jesus Christ, my testimony is strong, but where is my courage?

And as these thoughts have stirred in my head, I have repeatedly come to the same conclusion.

The conversion story. There is a need. If there wasn't, I wouldn't have written it.



M. Gray said...

I think a conversion story can always make a great story if it is DONE WELL. And you seem like you can pull it off. I'm not worried. In fact, when I was younger, I thirsted for books with LDS undertones to make me feel less psychotic. I was always one out of a handful of LDS kids in my school or sometimes one of two. I can't WAIT to read your books, girl. Covenant is picky--so you must tell a mean story. :)

Krista said...

Wow, M, you're fast! I was still editing this post when your comment showed up. :)
Thanks for the boost. It is good, when you're a bit of an oddball, to read about other oddballs, haha.

I really don't know what to expect from people when they read my books. I just hope they really really really like them. You know what I'm saying.

David J. West said...

It doesn't matter if a story has been done-all story's have been done, but they haven't been done by you.

Tell your story your way, tell it well and that is what will matter.

Charity Bradford said...

First of all, kudos for putting the question out there. I agree with David, all story's have been written, but you can put your own spin and touch to it.

Josi said...

One of the quotes at this year's LDStorymakers conference (and forgive me for not remembering who said it) is "There is always a market for Awesome!" I have written 11 novels, only one had a conversion story and I worried people would rant about it. Not a soul has. In fact some of the most positive feedback I have received has been about that book, and that element of the book.

But I do beg and plead with LDS writers who want to do one, to do it right. Let me, the reader, feel the feelings and feel strengthened by the journey. Don't make it 'simple' and don't make it "I was so unhappy until I found the gospel, now my life is perfect" cause that pisses me off. A conversion is a BIG deal, and it deserves to be told well. I have no doubt you have told it well. There is stigma you will face, but hopefully you'll help remind us of WHY the conversion story is told over and over again. Because it CAN be great.

Krista said...

"Let me, the reader, feel the feelings and feel strengthened by the journey. Don't make it 'simple' and don't make it "I was so unhappy until I found the gospel, now my life is perfect" cause that pisses me off. A conversion is a BIG deal, and it deserves to be told well."

That was the stigma I tried to face and turn on it's head. Thanks, Josi.

David and Charity- That's what I love about the writing process. You're just in the story, getting it out. It's afterward when all the "what did I just do?" feelings can come. Learning to take good, solid feedback, I'm learning, is crucial to "telling it well". Following your gut is good, too.

Thanks, all.

ali said...

I don't think we can ever say something isn't worth writing. And you just never know when your conversion story will be the one to touch someone's heart. ♥

Jenny said...

The crux of good story telling is the conflict and the resoluction of said conflict...isn't that what a "conversion" story is? Conversion isn't just about religion...though I understand how you're referring to it here; most love stories are a conversion, a changing of thoughts, beliefs and desires...I'm looking forward to reading your take on it!

Annette Lyon said...

What Josi said. I went into my fourth book with some hesitancy, because I knew there would be a conversion in it--and I dreaded writing a cliche. But then I realized that if the story is done well, it's NOT cliche. And, as in Josi's case, not a soul has complained about it to me--in fact, that book is many people's favorite.

I think it boils down to the fact that so many early LDS novels were ONLY conversions (and the same kind over and over again), so it felt overdone. Do it differently, do it well, and it works.

Krista said...

Thanks for all the supportive comments! Very good for the little doubting voices in my head. *Shhh, you!*

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